With the Flint water crisis reaching fever pitch as of late, Michigan is drawing national attention for some very unenviable reasons. For one thing, our state leaders have proven themselves to be utterly incompetent, even criminally responsible for gross negligence in this awful situation. Thousands of children have been poisoned with lead and all the citizens of Flint have been exposed to a carcinogenic compound called trihalomethane, due to the attempts the city made to manage and disinfect it’s own water source. After officials decided to obtain water from the Flint River in order to cut costs, instead continuing to purchase already treated water from Lake Huron, transmitted from Detroit, the residents of Flint are now paying the the price with their health, and some with their lives.
Flint is not among the more affluent communities in Michigan, in fact it is one of the poorest. Obviously, if a municipality run by an appointed emergency manager decides to switch a city’s water source from one that’s already being treated and has been working for over 50 years, to an untreated source that would need to be properly monitored and managed, something is bound to go wrong. And from what we’ve seen of the situation so far, it has been absolutely disastrous. Not only did the move cause lead contamination of the entire city’s drinking water, but a whole host of other issues has emerged. Due to lack of oversight, a dismissive approach to the concerns of Flint residents, and total ignorance and neglect on the part of various state and federal officials, the people have been environmentally sickened and economically compromised, and their trust has been completely obliterated.
For all intents and purposes, it appears that Governor Rick Snyder, Flint emergency manager Ed Kurtz, and Mayor Dayne Walling have all been operating under the guidance of complete ignorance throughout the entire process involving Flint’s water supply. As is evidenced by the release of a collection of e-mail communications the governor was involved in throughout this whole debacle, citizen concerns weren’t taken very seriously, scientific data was ignored and dismissed, and even the pleas and warnings from concerned people close to the situation were not taken seriously. Take, for instance, a letter from state representative Sheldon Neely, which was sent to the governor’s office a year ago. There was never any response or action taken in regard to this letter, even though Neely’s tone and his description of the issues in Flint really should have been alarming.
In the past, the city of Flint once had significant water needs, being that it was home to many auto manufacturing plants, as was the case for much of mid-Michigan and a the better part of the Midwest. Not only has the decline of the auto industry been seriously detrimental to cities like Flint and Detroit economically, but the social and environmental after effects have also been quite damaging. It is due to industry that the Flint River has become so corrosive in the first place, and has made it impossible for those who live in the area to rely on it as a source of water. Present day Flint has much less of a need for an abundant water source, but the 100,000 or so people that live there still need and deserve clean water. But apparently this is of little concern to some of our elected and governor appointed officials and even the water utility serving this community.
The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) is the water utility that supplies much of Michigan’s water needs, which included the city of Flint for over 50 years. However, in recent years budget shortfalls have caused Flint to seek other means of acquiring water. So, the local governmental leaders made a plan to join the Karegnondi Water Authority for water supplies that will be pumped from Lake Huron when the pipeline is finished in mid 2016. However, in the meantime, the DWSD decided to end their contract with Flint early after having asked the state to block approval for the project. Neither the city of Flint nor the DWSD were willing to make any concessions, effectively pitting the two entities against one another in a battle over water.
For those making decisions at the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, and those deciding the fate of the city of Flint, the fight over who controls whose water sources was mostly a matter of finances and control. The DWSD doesn’t want to lose another source of revenue for the already cash strapped city of Detroit, but Flint, on the other hand, also has a need to tighten their budget. The unfortunate ones caught in the middle are the elderly, the sick, and the young children of Flint who have now been exposed to high concentrations of lead and other chemicals, due to corrosion that occurred when Flint began sourcing their water from the Flint River.
Although the decision was only supposed to be temporary, it was also hastened by choices made by the DWSD. Although Flint has now switched back to its original water source, provided by Detroit, the damage has already been done, and it will be months, even years until everything is back to normal. The best the governor of Michigan can seem to do is apologize and make empty promises. Snyder has had many opportunities to act throughout this whole long, drawn out ordeal and now the public trust has been completely broken. Like so many other instances in our country, where citizens should be able to rely on legal and environmental protections, and their elected leaders to act in their best interests, the ineptitude of American government has been fully exposed for the world to see here in the state of Michigan.